Cuba’s Miguel Díaz-Canel and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro addressed a group of sympathizers at the Riverside Church in New York but only after some journalists from U.S. and Spanish news outlets were kicked out of the event.
“This is a solidarity gathering … so there’s no need to talk about names or titles. Here we are all brothers and sisters,” Díaz-Canel said at the Wednesday night gathering, according to videos that circulated across social media and other outlets.
Díaz-Canel touched on the same foreign policy issues that he addressed during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly earlier in the day, denounced what he called the U.S. trade “blockade” and expressed solidarity and support for the Maduro government.
“Until victory, always. Thank you very much,” Cuba’s appointed president said as he concluded his remarks.
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During the event, sponsored by IFCO/Pastors for Peace under the slogan “Cuba Speaks for Itself,” members of Díaz-Canel’s security asked the organizers to remove several U.S. and Spanish journalists who were already inside the church. Official Cuban journalists remained in place.
One event official later read from a list, drafted by organizers, of journalists who could return inside.
Left outside were journalists for el Nuevo Herald/Miami Herald, the Telemundo51 TV channel, the OnCuba digital publication, the Spanish news agency EFE and a team of freelancers working for The New York Times. All had been accredited by IFCO.
“The fact that our reporter was thrown out is not surprising, given the Cuban government’s history of denying us journalists’ visas to cover news out of that country,” said Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, executive editor of el Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald. “But it’s shameful that it happened at an event in the United States and, more importantly, a missed opportunity for coverage given that we have the largest bilingual audience with an interest in Cuba issues.
“Nonetheless, we will continue to cover news of great interest to our readers,” she said.
Cuban officials have been trying to arrange a meeting between Díaz-Canel and The New York Times’ editorial board, according to a source familiar with the issue. Eileen Murphy, the newspaper’s vice president of corporate communications, said no meeting is scheduled.
Riverside Church officials and volunteers initially said the journalists had to leave because of a lack of space. They later said the expulsion was required by the U.S. Secret Service, whose agents were at the church guarding Díaz-Canel. One agency official told el Nuevo Herald that was not true but that the agency could not prevent the expulsion of the journalists because it was not in charge of the event.
“It’s the Cubans. I am very sorry,” said Sally O’Brien, the IFCO member who coordinated the news media accreditation for the event.
One church security guard escorted the journalists out, saying she was trying to keep “things from turning ugly. They are about to turn ugly.” Several Cuban security officials followed the journalists out to the street.
The strong security presence at the church increased with the unscheduled arrival of Maduro, who accused the Trump administration of trying to topple him during his address to the U.N. General Assembly earlier in the day. He canceled a news conference with journalists accredited to cover the U.N. gathering.
“We landed in New York this afternoon. I decided late yesterday to come here,” Maduro told the audience at the church event. “I really wanted to come for two reasons: First, to bring the truth of the people of Venezuela and present it before the United Nations … and to return to this historic cathedral in Harlem and join this gathering with you. And share with our brother president of Cuba.
“We have been the victims of a great imperialist aggression, but today I can say that the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela is still standing, is alive and victorious,” Maduro declared to rousing applause.
Rumors of a meeting between Maduro and President Donald Trump were denied by the White House Wednesday. Trump said at a news conference, “I don’t like what is happening in Cuba, and I surely don’t like what is happening in Venezuela.”
The Riverside Church event was scheduled to include an initial ceremony with drums and remarks by the Rev. Michael Livingston as well as two U.S. doctors who graduated from a Cuban medical school. Gail Walker, executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, and Frank Velgara, a Puerto Rican revolutionary activist, were masters of ceremony for the event.
Before the gathering started, Dr. William W. Sales Jr., a member of the IFCO board of directors, said he’s been to several events in solidarity with Cuba.
“I have been to Cuba with the Pastors for Peace caravans, and I have a daughter who graduated from a medical school in Cuba,” he said. “We always come to these activities. It’s something that my family does to show support for the Cuban people, who have been so good to my daughter.”
Some of the people in line to enter the church said they were not bothered by the journalists’ expulsion.
One woman said she was at the event because “there’s no correct information about Cuba” in the United States, and shrugged her shoulders when told of the expulsion.
A man, who identified himself only as Oscar, said: “Sometimes you want only an intimate gathering.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres